Sunday, August 30, 2020

Author spotlight: Eugen Bacon

I'm super excited to have Eugen Bacon stop by my blog for a quick chat. Some of you may have heard that her novel Inside the Dreaming is releasing soon. So, here goes!

You have a Tweet length to tell the world about your writing (280 characters) – and go!  

Curious, playful, provocative, poetic, cross-genre, cross-cultural. Text shapes my silence. It shouts my chaos. I feel safe when interrogating complex and unsettling themes. My approach to the compositional space is with a sense of urgency where writing is an active speaking from a place of knowing, or unknowing.

If you think about what has led you to becoming a writer, what are some of the key milestones that stand out?

A love for text from an early age—how and why stories: why the zebra… / how the crocodile… / when the hyena… / what the monkey… 

My father, the values he instilled in me, and a wonder about things beyond comprehension. 

A deep fondness for musicality in text, hence my attraction to Toni Morrison. 

Doing a PhD in writing and discovering literary theorist Roland Barthes, who found pleasure in the text; uncovering features of the ‘rhizome’ that philosopher Gilles Deleuze and his collaboration with psychoanalyst Felix Guattari produced in A Thousand Plateaus (1987), where the rhizome ‘has no beginning or end; it is always in the middle, between things, interbeing, intermezzo’. I see rhizomes every which way in my text: deviation, plateaus, interconnection. A distortion that is whole. 

Which cultural objects have resulted in massive ‘aha’ moments for you? 

Drums. Folklore. Spirits. Masks. A close affinity with water, nature, language, rhythm.

When I write, I read text out loud—how it sounds, what is sees, the shape of its flow is important. It’s like a ditty in my head, I just know when it feels right. 

In your own work, do you ever indulge in intertextuality?

Yes. There’s a deep connection between texts, hence my crossing genre and writing across forms. Mine is a betwixt kind of writing. Perhaps that’s why I’ve taken naturally to prose poetry—literary vignettes on the everyday, the cousin of a poem and flash fiction, words and imagery enmeshed in art and metaphor. 

I learnt balance from Barthes, for whom text is a multi-dimensional space where things are made and unmade, where language is infinite, and literature deepens or extends language. 

Do you hope your writing sparks change in your readers, and if so, what would you like to see?

I like to think of the author as an agent of change—if not for the world, for themselves. I borrowed an understanding of the power of literature from existentialists like Simone de Beauvoir, who understood how a story and its characters interact with each other—how they are a bridge to inside out: an author or reader’s self-understanding and experience of the world they live in, or are creating. 

Inside the Dreaming is releasing via NewCon Press in December. You have no more than a 100 words to tell someone who's never heard of you or your book before what it's all about and why they should read it.

There are multiple points of intersection in blackness. Inside the Dreaming is an African Australian story, black speculative fiction that’s a murder mystery and an origins tale. Ivory Tembo, the detective assigned to the case, has secrets of her own that make her uniquely qualified to face a killer that’s far more than human. And it’s linked to the death of a man with twin souls, wrath of the gods, a new habitat. This origins story is about finding who you are. It’s a fiction that’s literary and cultural. A speculative tale that is a mystery and a history.

Eugen Bacon is African Australian, a computer scientist mentally re-engineered into creative writing.  Her work has won, been shortlisted, longlisted or commended in national and international awards, including the Bridport Prize, Copyright Agency Prize, Ron Hubbard's Writers of the Future Award, Australian Shadows Awards, Ditmar Awards and Nommo Award for Speculative Fiction by Africans. Her creative work has appeared in literary and speculative fiction publications worldwide, and 2020 sees the release of two prose poetry chapbooks, three collections and a novella—Inside the Dreaming by NewCon Press, UK.

Sword of Destiny by Andrzej Sapkowski

Continuing the short stories that spawned The Witcher phenomenon created by Andrzej Sapkowski, Sword of Destiny is the second book to pick up if you're looking to read everything chronologically. Or so I've been told. There's not a whole lot more that I can say about this collection of short stories, save that they continue to flesh out the setting and give background to the characters.

Geralt of Rivia might be considered a heartless monster hunter, but behind the imposing fa├žade lies an individual who cares deeply. Discussions of destiny follow through as a theme, with Geralt wrestling with his responsibility towards Ciri, and how their paths keep crossing. If you've watched the first season of the series on Netflix, you'll recognise some of the story arcs, though the series does play loose and fast with the source material.

I found particularly poignant the way Geralt and Yennefer damage each other so much – and Geralt very much cares for her, even if she pushes him away. The biggest issue that I can say is that what they value in life differs vastly. We also get glimpses into Geralt's past, and have hints as to why he got started on his path as a witcher in the first place. 

As always, I feel that much is lost in translation – some of the phrasing and idiomatic expressions are clunky, but I have sufficient love for the setting to continue reading.

Friday, August 28, 2020

Realm of Beasts by Angela J Ford

At a glance, Realm of Beasts by Angela J Ford looked like exactly the kind of story I'd enjoy reading – and I'm a sucker for any kind of tale where there is a bonded relationship with fantastic beasts. But ... and yes, there is a but... The novel failed to deliver on all fronts. 

The premise sounds interesting – an unlikely pair must get over their differences to stop the ominous Master of the Forest from destroying a literal paradise. Tor Lir is a man of so much mystery, he doesn't know what his name is (so he goes by Tor Lir – the Nameless One). Citrine is a fiery enchantress who is looking for a place where she can settle with her fantastic menagerie. Their paths cross when they bump into the guardian Novor Tur Woodberry, who I'm pretty sure was based heavily on Tom Bombadil, and who sends them merrily off on their quest To Save The World.

Of course, Citrine and Tor don't see eye to eye most of the way, and there's predictably a bunch of Awkward Romantic Tension. I'm not going to go further into the plot, because this is pretty much the bare bones of the story.

But what didn't work for me at all was the writing. The syntax was often peculiar and awkward to the point where the meaning becomes ambiguous. A good line edit could have fixed this. But it wasn't just that – the writing itself doesn't flow cohesively. Characters' motivations are not well developed, nor anchored within the the story and the setting. The fact that every time Woodberry's name is mentioned, it's written in full ... And repeated, often, when a good pronoun could've worked. Random occurrences take place or characters behave in certain ways that don't feel plausible. Focus on better direct and indirect characterisation would most certainly help. And unfortunately it's beyond the scope of this review to fix.

Pacing was also a massive problem for me – the set-up took so long that by the time the characters were ready to go questing, I was no longer invested in the story, and in fact found myself paging ahead to see whether the chapter was almost done – never a good sign.

Ford shows a lot of promise, and she clearly has a highly detailed world, and I do believe that if she teamed up with a savvy developmental editor to help tighten the story and, most importantly, characterisation. With deeper, more layered writing, this series could be something. But it's not for me. Not in its current shape and form.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Mary, Queen of Scotch by Rob Rosen

 Every once in a while I like to shake up my reading, and Mary, Queen of Scotch by Rob Rosen piqued my interest when it landed on my desk. After all, what's not to love about glamorous drag queens with a side order of private investigating... and a little more investigating of matters of a more private business beyond that...

Barry is a private investigator, but he's not exactly flush with exciting work until a client hires him to find out if his husband is cheating on him. Except Barry ends up going undercover as a drag queen, which is not exactly flying under the radar, but it does place him exactly where he needs to be to dig up the dirty. With his mum helping him with his new look, he's ready to solve his case.

Only a simple investigation to find out whether a spouse is cheating turns into something much more complicated, which I won't share for fear of spoilers. Suffice to say Barry finds himself in the midst of an incredibly tangled knot I had no idea how he'd find his way out of. 

And if untangling his investigation isn't enough, Barry finds his heartstrings thoroughly plucked by not only a past lover he'd thought behind him, but also a new beau who may or may not be unsuitable. Cue gallons of steamy tension. Filled with oodles of bitchy humour and far too much glitter, Mary, Queen of Scotch provided four solid drams of fun.

Saturday, August 15, 2020

New Men issues 1-3 by Murewa Yodele and Dotun Akande, edited by Nicole D'Andria

 I don't read comic books nearly as much as I wish I had time for, so when New Men issues 1-3 landed on my desk, I was more than happy to say yes. With the story by Murewa Yodele and art by Dotun Akande, I was plunged into a pleasing subversion of the standard super hero trope.

The creators ask the question, "What if incipient superheroes are hunted down before they can establish themselves?" Which does make me wonder how our governments would respond in real life if mutants manifesting super powers were to become a regular occurrence.

We kick off book 1 with Faith, who comes into her powers when she and her boyfriend leap of a building (leap of faith, get it...). She manifests powers; he doesn't. The premise is that those who look into the face of death without fear can become gods, the so-called "New Men". And there are those who want to stop these New Men from existing – the anti-New Men agents.

Considering what the agents are up against, it comes as no surprise that there's a high turnover in the workforce, but there are always more to take their place. Enter Shade. She's somewhat unusual in that she's been in the business of killing for more than 12 years (nine years longer than your average agent). And not only is she ferociously good at her job, she enjoys it.

Okay, so any more than that, we enter spoiler territory. New Men is a wonderfully gritty, African-centric take on the whole superhero vibe. It's well drawn and I love the finish to the graphics that have a slightly decon, glitchy feel to them. New Men is ultraviolent, lavishly coloured, and fast paced, with a slick overall finish. My only critique is that some of the transitions were a little on the jagged edge, so the story begs a second read-through to catch any of the twists missed the first time round. Not a deal breaker, but I really just enjoyed the trip.

A lot of love has been lavished on this story, and it gets a huge thumbs up from me. Give it a shot and show some love for African SFF.

Monday, August 10, 2020

Elevation: The Fiery Spiral (#3) by Helen Brain

 Elevation: The Fiery Spiral by Helen Brain concludes Ebba's journey as she seeks to heal her world. Book two leaves us with Ebba finding herself drawn through a portal into another world, where the challenges she faces in order to come into her own are far more fraught than before. Hampered by her stress and worry about what she's left behind her, and what her enemies are doing to her beloved Greenhaven and Table Island, Ebba must forge ahead to hand the Goddess the necklace with its amulets. But she's not alone. She's found an unlikely ally in Lucas, and together they'll be able to face their challenges head on – that's if they can work through their differences enough to not be at cross purposes. 

While books one and two had some magical elements, most of book three plays out in an alternative realm that offers a surreal environment where nothing can be taken at face value. Both Ebba and Lucas face great personal challenges akin to their own hero's journey heavily laden with symbolism. I can say with great certainty that I have not read a YA fantasy quite like this one, and I'd hazard to say that I kept thinking somewhat of Michael Ende's The NeverEnding Story, as there's a whole lot of meta going on here that can be unpacked, with each scene flowing into the other like sequences in a dream.

I appreciated the novelty offered by this story, especially for its departure from established norms, yet I did feel somewhat that I missed a sense of urgency, especially in terms of what could be lost. Now that I'm able to stand back and look at all three books as a unit, it's clear that book three is a complete departure from what has been set up in the first two. I'm not certain how readers' expectations to this will be affected by the sudden shift so late in the story. Could this have been solved with more foreshadowing at the start? 

This is a difficult book to rate. I like it because it's bold and so different from what I've seen in YA fantasy in recent years. But it has its flaws, and there's a part of me that wonders if the entire trilogy couldn't have been edited as a unit to build in the foreshadowing of events that play out in book three better, so that it is not such a shock to the system when the story shifts from earth to Celestia. The message I picked up was clear: how Ebba and Lucas both learn to look beyond themselves and their issues, to be kind to themselves for their shortcomings, and step up to the plate when they have their chance to prove themselves. So in that sense, this story provides fitting closure to the trilogy.

Sunday, August 9, 2020

The Black Tides of Heaven by by JY Yang

 JY Yang's writing has been on my radar awhile now, so I looked forward to getting into their writing, especially since this is fantasy that is most certainly not the stock-standard euro-centric fare I'm used to.  Mokoya and Akeha are identical twins, but in their world, children maintain a neutral gender until they decide whether they wish to become male or female. This was a nice touch, which I enjoyed as a breath of fresh air.

Thus the twins' paths diverge as they gain their majority, with Mokoya gaining fame as a prophet, while her brother Akeha drifts into the rebellion between the magic-wielding tensors, who seek to maintain their power as an elite, with the Machinists who, aptly named, work with the mechanical, to bring power into the hands of all citizens of the Tensorate.

Yang's writing is nuanced and rich with description, and the world they evoke is incredibly tactile. I do feel that this is a novel masquerading as a novella, and while I enjoyed the story immensely, I almost felt it moved too fast. This is a world that is ripe for development, and I would have loved to have seen more conflict building up to the ending. Despite this brevity, the story still flows beautifully, providing just enough meat to the bone for me to invest in the telling and the characters.

The book works on many levels, examining the relationship between siblings, as well as siblings and a parent, within a highly complex society with a distinct culture where conflict is brewing between different classes. My only wish is that Yang had stretched out the telling more to take advantage of all the wonderful raw material available.